Rescuing Forgotten Geniuses.

Brad Bigelow of the Neglected Books Page (which I linked to just last November) has a good post on a topic dear to my heart: We Must Rescue Forgotten Geniuses If We are to Read Them. I’ll quote the start and end (here’s an archived version of the Tadepalli piece), and if those excerpts intrigue you you can click through to read the whole thing:

Apoorva Tadepalli published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times recently, titled “We Need to Read the Forgotten Geniuses, Not Rescue Them.” As anyone who’s familiar with this site can imagine, this was an article I read with interest. For over forty years, I’ve been fascinated with looking for forgotten writers and reading their books, a fascination that I’ve used this site since 2006 to share, a fascination that led in 2021 to the creation of the Recovered Books series from Boiler House Press and my own rescue of a few of my discoveries. So I was eager to learn what Tadepalli had to say and agreed enthusiastically with some of it. But I hope she will allow me the right to quote some of her points and offer my thoughts in response.

“Critics,” she writes, “play a role in determining which books published today should be branded ‘instant classics,’ which authors are best described as ‘little-known’ and which books published in past decades or centuries merit re-examination.”

Ah, if it were this simple. The role of critics in the publishing process is almost entirely post-natal. When a book is first published, critics can influence its sales and its reception by the reading public by what they say in reviews, but few publishers consult any critic when deciding to reissue a book that’s been out of print — and in most cases, consequently out of any critical conversation — for some time. What a reissue publisher, at least any not exclusively targeting an academic audience and sales to university libraries, considers are three questions foremost: Is the book good (meaning of sufficient merit to justify being associated with the imprint)? Is the book in the public domain or are the rights attainable for a reasonable price? Will enough readers buy the book to recoup costs and, with some luck, earn a profit?

The first question — merit — is in the critic’s territory only to the extent that the football is in the territory of a fan watching the game. Except in this case, the stands are deserted, aside perhaps from a lone die-hard or two. We owe the rediscovery of Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, for example, to the fact that Alfred Kazin and Leslie Fiedler, two of the more prominent critics of the time, both named the book as one of “The Most Neglected Books of the Past 25 Years” when queried by The American Scholar magazine. Their enthusiasm for Roth’s novel, along with Irving Howe’s (another influential critic) convinced Avon Books to reissue the book — accompanied by a remarkable amount of advertising, for a paperback edition of a forgotten book, in places like The Saturday Review of Literature. […]

But Tadepalli is looking at the situation through the wrong end of the telescope. The reality is that most writers will be forgotten. Readers don’t have the time or energy to read everything good that’s in print, let alone chase down the far greater number of books that are good and out of print. There are very, very few obsessives like me who dig into the vast piles of forgotten books and try to report back. The canon of well-known, widely taught, in print and easily available writers is only a narrow and well-trodden path through the vast territory called the literature of the past. What lies off that beaten path is much the same as what we see among the new books that are being published today: in other words, great books and awful books and an enormous amount in between.

If people today are going to read a book that lies in the dark, overgrown thickets on either side of the path of the canon, someone has to pick up a machete and start exploring. That exploration is not guaranteed to be fruitful. Just like scientific experimentation, reading a long out of print book, even one that got rave reviews when it came out, isn’t necessarily going to result in another “unjustly neglected” masterpiece worthy of being read today. But without the search, nothing that isn’t already familiar will ever be found.

I have been searching for neglected books for over forty years and the one thing I can say with unshakeable confidence is that there are more great (and even just seriously good) books out there in the thickets off the beaten path of the canon than I or anyone else can ever hope to discover. Because that is the fate of most books and writers: to be forgotten — regardless of their merit or whether they “resonate” with today’s readers. “Unjustly neglected” is not an overused trope of academia and the publishing world: it’s the lot of many, many more writers than all of today’s reissue publishers will ever be able to bring back to print, more than all of today’s readers will ever be able to appreciate.

But that doesn’t mean those books don’t exist or don’t matter or don’t have connections to the canon or don’t illuminate some aspect of our lives. Their writers just weren’t lucky enough to make the journey from being new and unknown to being securely established in the canon seamlessly in the way that Charles Dickens or T. S. Eliot or Doris Lessing did. This is the problem with the canon: it’s short-sighted, erratic, and unreliable. As Tadepalli notes, even Moby Dick, which some would call the greatest American novel, was out of print and forgotten for decades until it was recognized as “unjustly neglected” and rescued by Lewis Mumford, and published as #119 in the Modern Library series.

It’s true that the books and writers that make it into the canon and stay are, generally, good and relevant. But the corollary to this principle is not: what’s neglected is not necessarily justly neglected. Which leaves us with label “unjustly neglected” to apply to the works that we pull from the vast territory of forgotten book and bring back into today’s conversation. If it seems to be overused, that’s only because some folks fail to recognize that there’s more good literature that’s forgotten than not. “To only consume art that was created in our lifetimes is a terrifying thought,” Tadepalli writes. I would say that the same is true if we only consume art that is considered to be in the canon. But many readers won’t go looking beyond what’s familiar (hell, many men still don’t bother to read anything written by women), which is why we need searchers and reporters to find what’s been forgotten and reissue publishers to bring it back into the realm of the familiar.

I have, of course, been engaged in a similar search through Russian literature for a decade and a half now, and have reported on my finds at LH; it’s rewarding in its own right, and I have actually inspired a few other people to read (and in one case to translate) one or another forgotten book. (I blush to confess that I have had a copy of Call It Sleep on my shelves for many years, but have still not gotten around to reading it…)


  1. cuchuflete says

    Will some intrepid rescuer unearth the first novel by Salvador de Madariaga? A feminist, perhaps?

  2. I think talking about forgotten “geniuses” is already the wrong framing. It would be better to focus on finding forgotten works of quality literature, rather than forgotten writers. I can understand why it can feel more natural to focus on authors (or other artistic creators) than on individual works, but it mistakes the fundamental unit of quality. Many writers may produce one really good—or even great—book, along with a lot of other middling material. Some writers, naturally, will have a degree of talent that will allow them to create more than just a single good work, but there is a reluctance to discard even the poorest works of recognized major authors. (I have painful memories of having been forced to read and analyze Mark Twain’s juvenilia. Similarly, Pride and Prejudice is a truly great novel, but Mansfield Park is a bad novel that should be out of print.) The dross of sometimes great writers plays a significant role in crowding out all those other “unjustly neglected” books.

  3. Richard Hershberger says

    Classical music is the same way. Every piece composed in the last quarter millennium is in competition with every other. Make this the last nine centuries if we include self-consciously “early music” performances. The unavoidable result is a brutal culling of what makes the standard repertoire. The process works, in that it rarely produces false positives–works that get routinely performed despite not being all that good (not to be confused with warhorses getting over-performed). False negatives are another matter. Even more so is the fotgotten pretty good. There is an endless supply of pretty good music that is virtually never performed. Much of it is recorded, due to the economics of classical music records (yet another Brandenburg Concertos recording, or something obscure with no direct competition?). I am fortunate to have a very good local classical station that is willing to play this stuff, often with the excuse of its being the birthday of this composer you never heard of, so I get exposed to some of it. One man’s “pretty good” is another’s new favorite. I often will sit up with a “Who wrote this?” response and go buy the CD.

  4. I am fortunate to have a very good local classical station that is willing to play this stuff

    Yes, me too (Sunday Baroque and Classical Music with John Nowacki are my favorite programs); I never used to appreciate, say, Telemann sufficiently, and there were some amazing Baroque composers from Latin America. I do wish Nowacki wouldn’t play quite so much harp music, but you have to allow people their idiosyncrasies.

  5. cuchuflete says

    Our local NPR station, Maine Classical, ventures beyond the A list once in a while, but not often does it go so far as the Mannheim School or a Carl Nielsen symphony. If you like the guitar works of Agustín Barrios, best to bring your own vinyl or CD.

    It’s worse for Jazz. While I could enjoy listening to Bill Evans for hours, it would be nice to sprinkle in a little Tommy Flanagan or Horace Silver.

    Reminds me of all those painful years in Corporate America, where nobody ever got fired for buying their mainframe from IBM.

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    Richard Hershberger’s point that people deciding what classical repertoire to record for their next CD-or-disembodied-equivalent have significantly different incentives than people deciding what classical repertoire will be performed at their symphony hall dependent on the patronage of unadventurous season subscribers is an important one. Is there any equivalent in terms of different groups of people having predictably different incentives when deciding what out-of-copyright literary texts to promote or not to promote? Maybe not in general, although one exception may be those trying to cater to the felt need to make school curricula more “diverse” by retrojecting modern political concerns on the inherited canon (which is not to suggest that the prior canon-formation process was apolitical, of course).

    Practical example: if you took a college class a few decades back on “The Eighteenth-Century English Novel,” it is comparatively unlikely that the assigned readings included anything by Penelope Aubin or perhaps anything by any non-male author. But today’s instructors who might feel unease about a syllabus devoid of female novelists can tell their students to all buy copies of this new 2023 critical edition of two of Aubin’s potboilers (edited by a Prof. Brewer of my acquaintance), brought to market in large part to meet that aforementioned felt need.

    There may of course be any number of unjustly neglected 18th-century novels that do not benefit from this particular counter-canonical (or canon-revisionist) incentive structure because they don’t offer the right sort of marketing hook for a new edition.

  7. Me too too. A good classical music (or a “world music”) selector and presenter is a great gift.

  8. John Cowan says

    What’s broken about the whole system is that it’s as if history were news. We are interested only in either what’s just happened or a tiny fraction of what the past.

  9. What would you suggest, bearing in mind that it’s impossible to be interested in (or even aware of) more than a tiny fraction of what the past?

  10. Our local NPR station, Maine Classical

    That’s my station too, having moved up here from the DC area a couple of years ago. On the whole I find it better than WETA Classical, which was heavy on the warhorses (although they seemed to have acquired at some point a job-lot of recordings by Ludwig Spohr and Johann Nepomuk Hummel, both of whom put in regular appearances).

    Maine Classical broadcasts local performances pretty often, and I have heard some interesting and unusual selections.

  11. When I first moved here and started listening to the local NPR station, I wrote them an e-mail commending them on their wide-ranging classical programs but complaining gently about the warhorses. They wrote back thanking me and pointing out that there are always people who haven’t heard Beethoven’s Fifth (or whatever). Yeah, fair point, but still, don’t play them so damn often!

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    By chance I just today stumbled across the promotional webpage for a three-day Bassoon Festival coming up in NYC in June. (Mark your calendar if bassoons are your thing!) It notes that “[t]he festival centers of those who have been historically omitted from the classical canon.” Sounds promising … But then “all music explored during the festival will be by living composers.” So this is *not* going to be the chance for anyone to do some exploratory archaeology in the no doubt considerable amount of bassoon repertoire by now-deceased composers that has fallen into complete, and perhaps in some instances unjust, oblivion.

  13. There is also, at least here in Germany, a circuit of chamber music ensembles who play at small venues and go beyond the A-list of famous composers. I assume it’s easier to experiment in such small formats than if you have a big concert hall to fill.

  14. At one time one of the NPR stations I listened to in Kentucky had a program called “The Warhorses,” dedicated to just that.

  15. Richard Hershberger says

    @J.W. Brewer: The classical music equivalent is Le Chevalier de Sante-Georges, aka “the Black Mozart.” I have been through a few cycles now where someone discovers that he existed and gets very excited by this “unknown” composer. Often we will be told that he was unjustly relegated to obscurity because of his race. I have never seen any supporting evidence. It is merely assumed. To back it up one would first have to establish that his music would be in the standard repertoire had he been White. Listening to it, it is solidly in the “pretty good” range. Pick a representative piece and had it been by Mozart it would be occasionally performed because it was by a famous composer, but wouldn’t have stood out. In other words, it is very much like a vast body of similarly obscure music by similarly obscure composers who get played occasionally in a context that encourages an expansive body of music, and do not get played in a context that encourages a narrow standard repertoire.

    The kicker is that there isn’t anything about his music that is informed by his being Black. It is thoroughly mainstream Western music of the period. Our attention would be better served directed to, for example, Florence Price: a twofer as a Black woman, and whose music is very much informed by at least the first of those.

  16. In other words, it is very much like a vast body of similarly obscure music by similarly obscure composers who get played occasionally in a context that encourages an expansive body of music

    Salieri is another example of this. He gets played far more often than he otherwise would simply because of that stupid movie.

  17. a program called “The Warhorses”

    as the product of a fairly classical education who is pretty deeply opposed to canon-building projects (whether canon-preserving or canon-expanding), i quite like that approach! especially when paired with (to stick to radio) programs like WNYC’s long-running New Sounds or WFMU’s much-lamented but well-archived Mudd Up! which devote themselves to non-genre-defined exploration (or, for that matter, WKCR’s deep-dive marathons of specific artists’ work). that way, the canonized fragment of a genre can be easily accessible, as can other works that may or may not have any significant relation to it.

    in a slightly different vein, i’m very fond of nyc’s Anthology Film Archive’s Essentials Series, which cycles through a somewhat idiosyncratic 330-film canon every few years. i think it’s a fantastic pedagogical approach for folks new or newer to experimental film (or to thinking of film as a craft where form matters), as well as creating constant opportunities for fortuitous double-feature combinations by running in parallel to their ongoing programming of new (and old) work.*

    there’s a parallel to the classic theater-autocrat strategy for expanding the stage repertoire: “one for them; one for me”, meaning regular presentation of warhorses (say The Miller and His Men, or The Master of Ballantrae) that will guarantee audiences and income, which can then subsidize productions that won’t necessarily make money (something by strindberg or ibsen, for instance) but will hopefully draw audiences based on the company’s warhorse-based appeal***.

    * i could, however, wish that one of Essential Cinema’s creators wasn’t an enthusiastic nazi collaborator as well as a legendary shmuck who earned the name Uncle Roachcrust**, or that Anthology would make even a token gesture acknowledging their founder’s fascism and genocide-promotion.

    ** with apologies for the gnarly source, the only place online where i can find jack smith’s account of his relationship with Uncle Fishhook is on pp192-204 here.

    *** not to be confused with the not-inconsiderable appeal of War Horse, which is entirely in the fantastic puppetry and lighting design (and would be greatly increased by the excision of the play’s text in its entirety).

  18. which can then subsidize productions that won’t necessarily make money (something by strindberg or ibsen, for instance
    I don’t know about the theater scene in New York, but over here, Strindberg and Ibsen are war horses, not some niche project. They’re classics and very much part of the canon. OTOH, up to now I never heard about The Miller and His Men, or The Master of Ballantrae.

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    The theater thing is tricky, because it’s different occasions over the course of a season, although maybe you’re selling season subscriptions. Obviously orchestras (or chamber music ensembles or whatever) can and sometimes do mix a program for an evening with one piece that’s going to be an audience draw and another that no one would pay to attend on a free-standing basis but which they can throw in without folks demanding refunds. This can cover not only “warhorses” but also high-profile new works. About a year ago I went to the N.Y. premiere at Carnegie Hall of Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 12 (the last and IMHO least of his trio that are thematically linked to late-Seventies David Bowie albums). It was performed by the visiting Czech orchestra the Filharmonie Brno because of course it was. Before getting to the premiere (with the aged Glass himself in attendance) we sat through a piece I hadn’t heard of by Janáček, whom I had heard of, as well as a piece by another composer where even the name was unfamiliar to me, viz. Bohuslav Martinů. Who, to be fair, certainly sounded like someone whose work might be better-known in Brno. (Further complication: wikipedia advises that he wrote the specific piece in question while living in the U.S. as a political refugee – or bourgeois formalist emigre, if you ask the Communists.)

  20. There has been a real surge in interest in the works of Bohuslav Martinu over the last two decades. Unusually, I think, this does not seem to have been driven by the discovery of a single really great but neglected work. I suspect that in his lifetime, Martinu’s music got less attention than it probably deserved, since it was not as innovative technically as what other people were doing at the time. However, listeners and critics today care less about whether a symphony composed in 1935 sounds too much like it could have been written in 1885, and with the benefit of the longer historical perspective, it seems that Martinu is now widely considered to be one of the best orchestral composers of the twentieth century. Here is one of his shortest, most poignant, symphonic poems. It was composed in 1943, to honor victims of Nazi atrocities, and stylistically there are passages that could easily be mistake for a nineteenth-century Romantic work.

  21. widely considered to be one of the best orchestral composers of the twentieth century.

    Errm? Really? “widely” where? Not that I’ve anything particular against Martinu [**], but there’s a long list of C20th composers I’d put in front of him — even if we exclude those who started composing in C19th but whose best-known works are C20th.

    [**] I guess I mostly hear his shorter works, played as intros to a concert; occasionally a concerto.

  22. PlasticPaddy says

    Does “orchestral composers” exclude those who composed (mainly) film music? This is really a wider point, in that broad emotional appeal or even “listenability” does not seem to have been a principal goal of much of 20C classical music.

  23. PlasticPaddy says

    What Hans said. But theatre warhorses depend on the audience a theatre is targeting. For Irish audiences, Synge and O’Casey (also John B. Keane) would bring in the crowds (although nationaĺists hated O’Casey and Synge’s plays when they were first performed).

  24. Does “orchestral composers” exclude those who composed (mainly) film music?

    Not in my book — although we might have to haggle about the “mainly”. A C20th composer I’d put a long way ahead of Martinu is Shostakovich, who wrote plenty of film scores. Prokofiev’s score for Eisenstein Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible. I was going to mention accompanying Battleship Potemkin, but I see Shost’s compositions were adapted for the movie by others. Stravinsky/Rite of Spring adapted for Disney’s Fantasia? Stravinsky also wrote a few scores for films which came to nothing — he re-used the music, as one does..

    “listenability” does not seem to have been a principal goal of much of 20C classical music.

    Huh? Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten. OK a few couple of those were born late C19th, but then so was Martinu. (Clearly we differ on what counts as “listenable”. I’d count lots of middle-late Romantic stuff as immediately-put-downable.)

    Specifically, Shost had to conform to what Stalin thought was “listenable” — an Artist’s reply to Just Criticism.

  25. Stravinsky/Rite of Spring adapted for Disney’s Fantasia? — I know you know the several reasons that doesn’t count

  26. Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten.

    And Bartok, of course.

  27. And listenability has become a thing again since the rise of Philip Glass, John Adams, and their ilk. (That style of music doesn’t do much for me, but you can’t call it atonal or forbidding.)

  28. Richard Hershberger says

    Listenability: There was a definite branch of composers who reveled in music few would voluntarily listen to. For that matter, there still is. But there always were other guys writing music for general audiences, and these are the guys still played today. Aaron Copland gets performed vastly more often than the entire Second Viennese School combined. You can find a small number of people who swoon over the handful of Pierre Boulez’s works, but Lenny Bernstein is the one orchestras program.

    What the avant-garde crowd was very good at was marketing themselves as the future of classical music, so get with the program! The collective response by audiences was to conclude that the future of classical music sucked, so let’s listen to a Beethoven symphony again.

    This stuff turned out not to be the future of classical music after all. There is a lively and creative body of modern composers writing music that is clearly modern, and sounds good! (For those looking for recommendations, check out Caroline Shaw, Jennifer Hidgon, Dobrinka Tabakova, and Arvo Pärt, just to name a few.) But the avant-garde marketing campaign is still dragging contemporary classical music down.

    The upshot is that I believe the proper way to understand the avant-garde was as a minor side track that proved a dead end, but with prominent and misleading signage.

  29. Aaron Copland … Lenny Bernstein

    I can’t stand either of those guys. Listenability and pandering are two different things.

  30. PlasticPaddy says

    My strict take on broad emotional appeal and “listenability” might be too restrictive and would exclude a lot of music. I like there to be passages that stay in the memory and that people (e.g., my late father) hum or make up their own words to. So for 20th C Vaughn-Williams and Pärt, probably Khachaturian more than Stravinsky/Shostakovich/Prokofiev, etc. Do you include de Falla, Lehar and Ivor Novello as classical composers?

  31. J.W. Brewer says

    I should probably note that classical music (esp. post-Haydn) is not really my bag, so I didn’t mean to suggest that the fact that I personally had never previously heard of Bohuslav Martinů meant he was unknown among those more au courant, only that to the more marginally-aware such as myself he was less of an obvious box-office attraction than Glass or even Janacek.

    For the more avant-gardeish stuff I do enjoy the 1973 Carnegie Hall anecdote recorded in the wiki piece about this early Steve Reich number: But that’s the sort of anecdote that would appeal to a punk-rock enthusiast.

  32. Stravinsky reportedly called Bernstein “a department store of music.”
    If that’s what, say, West Side Story is, fine by me.
    Young People’s Concerts, too, helped classical music, way back, my childhood, before my band years.
    (I haven’t seen the Lenny movie.)
    Lots of great recent composers, e.g., the late Henryk Gorecki.
    Though Bach is endlessly great,
    I’m not ashamed to also like some movie music (such as The Mission) by Ennio Morricone.

  33. West Side Story is great for what it is, but it’s not classical music by any stretch of the imagination.

    Movie music is a category rather than a genre; it can overlap with jazz (as with Miles’ film scores) or (less successfully, in general) with classical. Morricone was a genius, and I highly recommend Enrico Pieranunzi’s take on his music.

  34. (Irrelevant side note: comment RSS still not working.)

  35. Richard Hershberger says

    “…not classical music by any stretch of the imagination.”

    Ooh! There’s a big can of creepy crawly worms! What about Porgy and Bess? The Threepenny Opera? I personally am comfortable with an expansive and frankly vague definition of classical music. I am unsurprised to hear Scott Joplin played on a classical station. (Indeed, what other format would play it? Jazz maybe? I have never heard that, but I don’t listen to jazz radio nearly as much.) Similarly with John Philip Sousa.

    Just recently as I was dressing in the morning I was startled to hear my local classical station playing “Begin the Beguine.” I wondered if it were Cole Porter’s birthday, but upon checking, he was born in June. Honestly, my guess is that they had a three to four minute gap in their schedule, and that was the right length. But this means they had it in their library. So I guess Cole Porter is classical? Perhaps. Tom Lehrer had a joke that there are two kinds of music: popular and unpopular. Cole Porter wrote what was once popular music, but is no longer. So perhaps the functional definition of classical music includes formerly popular music. Perhaps a century from now they will be performing “Baby Got Back” in art song recitals, alongside Schubert and Mendelssohn.

  36. Or Ecce Cor Meum, Paul McCartney, in or out?

  37. J.W. Brewer says

    There is some jazz music that I describe as sounding film-soundtracky. I do not mean this as a compliment, and it is possible that that certain jazz recordings that have, in actual fact, been used in film soundtracks would not (esp. if listened to in isolation) lead me to describe them thusly.

    I do appreciate that there were during parts of the 20th century some serious classical composers (e.g. Korngold) who worked in Hollywood because their style was out of favor in the symphony-hall world (for not being twelve-tone or whatever) and Hollywood would pay them to write in the style they preferred, albeit with whatever specific compromises might be necessary for the resultant score to fit the on-screen action.

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    I feel like West Side Story and Porgy and Bess were doing the same thing, which only really made sense in a world now dead and gone, where both white intelligentsia and respectable white bourgeoisie had near-universally been socialized into thinking that Serious Music = traditional concert-hall repertoire played by a symphony orchestra. So they both offer tunes evoking new vernacular trends but heavily orchestrated, perhaps overorchestrated, to make it sound like an old-fashioned Serious Music symphony is expanding its palette. But the better tunes from Porgy & Bess work fine played by a small jazz combo – get rid of the extra 20 highly-paid union guys in the orchestra pit who were generating the veneer of Serious Music respectability. For the WSS era, compare the Sinatra albums where Nelson Riddle is conducting 70+ string players making union scale with those where Frankie just has piano/bass/drums and an occasional horn behind him. I prefer the latter. (There are intermediate approaches, of course, like those where he has the full Basie band.)

  39. What about Porgy and Bess? The Threepenny Opera?

    I wasn’t talking about them, I was talking about West Side Story. There are no generalities here; each score has to be taken on its own. The Threepenny Opera leans more in the classical direction.

  40. To all you with strong opinions on what is CM: would you include Moondog? (Aside from whether you think his music is good or not.)

  41. Another one – what is stuff like “the X Philarmonic Orchestra plays (insert name of popular pop or rock group)”, playing over-orchestrated versions of popular tunes – classical music or pop (besides being an obvious attempt to jump on a bandwagon and grab some money)? Is the distinction a question of venue and orchestration, or is it in the spirit of composition?

  42. Richard Hershberger says

    For that matter, Revolution 9 from the White Album was explicitly following avant-garde classical music of the time. There was talk of classical and popular music merging. This was unrealistic for many reasons, but in the case of Revolution 9 even its being the Beatles could not make it popular, as opposed to the track that you skip over while muttering about Yoko Ono.

  43. David Marjanović says

    1:34:50 of Morricone showing he deserved his first name.

  44. Ennio Morricone was an incredibly versatile composer. He wrote film scores in a number of different styles. John Carpenter usually scores his own films, but he did not have time to do it for The Thing, which was by far the biggest and most complicated project of his career to that point. So he hired Morricone to compose the score, and after some discussions, Morricone created what he thought were the kind of synthesizer-heavy cues that Carpenter would have written if he had had the time.

  45. @Hans, PP: apologies for not spelling out the context of that model! my own provincialism at work…

    i was talking about the turn of the 20th century, when theater-autocrats (henry irving, for example) still ruled a lot of the theater world, touring with their companies as director/producer/stars. The Miller and His Men and The Master of Ballantrae were blockbusters of the 19th-century popular theater*, and still good for packing a small-city/large-town opera house down through WWI or so, even after Modern Radicals like ibsen and strindberg were fairly respectable (or at least an acceptable flavor of scandalous). robertson davies’ The Mirror of Nature is a great critical/analytic account of that theater world, and part of his World of Wonders is a fictional portrait of its last days.

    in the u.s., at least, there are still a few theater-autocrats around, but they’re pretty marginal to the mainstream commercial theater world (the Bread & Puppet Theater’s peter schumann is a decent exemplar). but more importantly, there aren’t touring companies in that sense anymore – touring these days is a matter of single productions, on a (more or less) franchise model.

    and as JWB said, to some extent current theater venues do a similar balancing act in programming their seasons. but the distance between their sure-thing productions and their risk-taking ones is much smaller in most cases, aesthetically even more than financially. you don’t often see a show by even a well-established living avant-gardist playwright like mac wellman or suzan-lori parks** sharing a season with a workhorse by, say, eugene o’neill or tennessee williams.

    * and like that whole theater world, so forgotten today that the wikipedia page for stevenson’s Master of Ballantrae (the original source) doesn’t even mention the stage version, though it does include the 1953 errol flynn vehicle, which i’m pretty sure is more a descendent of the play than the novel.

    ** she may be the rule-proving exception, because she’s had such solid support from the Public Theater, which also presents plenty of warhorse material (through its concession at the Delacorte Theater for Shakespeare In The Park, in particular). but even at the Public, there are institutional demarcations separating tranches of respectability/established-ness into what amount to separate theaters under their institutional umbrella.

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